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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

School district looks to save on health insurance costs

David Colburn
Posted 10/27/23

FIELD TWP- Health insurance was on the ISD 2142 school board agenda on Tuesday as board members met at North Woods School. The board heard that circumstances have come together for a rare occurrence …

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School district looks to save on health insurance costs


FIELD TWP- Health insurance was on the ISD 2142 school board agenda on Tuesday as board members met at North Woods School. The board heard that circumstances have come together for a rare occurrence in this day and age— a possible decrease in the cost of the district’s health insurance.
Aaron Casper of National Insurance Services, an Eden Prairie-based company the district contracted with to solicit and assess health insurance bids for the upcoming two-year cycle that starts in January, delivered the good news.
“The goal was to provide like, similar and/or better benefits to staff at a reduced cost,” Casper said. “Typically, when we’re talking medical insurance, it’s very difficult to provide both of those. This is one of the better results we’ve seen.”
Proposals from the district’s current provider, the Minnesota Public Employees Insurance Program (PEIP) and six other companies were received in the initial bid phase, and PEIP, Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS), MHC/Northeast Service Cooperative and Sourcewell responded to a request for “best and final responses” with revised proposals.
“What we always do in our process is we have a best and final,” Casper said. “It affords us the opportunity to answer questions to help carriers become more competitive for us as a group. About three out of four times carriers actually have a better response.”
Casper conducted a clear, thorough review contrasting the various plan projected premiums, deductibles, out-of-pocket expenses, second-year cost increase caps, and overall savings to the district and its employees, all based on current enrollment of 166 district employees in the PEIP plan.
Casper’s recommendation was for the district to switch to Blue Cross Blue Shield, which offered the best combination of overall savings, $344,192 or 10.3 percent, and a second-year cap of nine percent. The overall cost of the BCBS plan would be $2,985,359.52. The current cost of the PEIP plan is approximately $3.3 million. With the nine percent cap in the second year proposed by BCBS, the district would remain slightly below what its paying now for health insurance, Casper said.
The packet provided to the board indicated that the Northeast Service Cooperative quote was competitive, but the second-year cap is six percent greater than BCBS. A quote from Sourcewell was also financially competitive but would include significant changes in plan offerings. And PEIP, while competitive, did not offer a second-year cap on price increases.
The next step in the process is for the recommendation to be referred to the district’s insurance committee for consideration. Casper said he would make himself available to meet with the committee and the district’s various employee bargaining units to explain the bids and recommendations.
Casper noted that by state law, the teacher’s union, as the one with the largest membership, can vote to retain PEIP as its health insurance provider. Casper thought that would be unlikely given the clear advantages of the BCBS bid, but wanted to be certain board members were aware that could happen. If the teachers did remain with PEIP, the board could still vote to go with BCBS for the rest of its employees, but NIS would have to re-evaluate and recalculate the plan comparisons to determine the potential benefits with a smaller employee pool.
In other business, the board:
• Heard from North Woods Principal Kelly Engman about the various student and staff initiatives going on at the school. Engman presented a six-minute video highlighting school activities before giving a presentation tying what is going on at North Woods to key performance goals of the district’s new strategic plan.
• Heard from North Woods Industrial Arts teacher Bruce Black about his concerns with his program budget. Black noted that while his budget has remained the same for years, the cost of construction materials skyrocketed during the pandemic. “Last year if you had divided my numbers up with the budget each student would have received $39, and I paid $13 a board. You do the math in your head.” Renting one welding tank for a semester would consume one-eighth of his budget, Black said. “If we did not make the dugouts for the little league last year (which provided all the materials) I wouldn’t have had any money at all for an entire year’s construction class.” The budget crunch comes at a time when North Woods is exploring ways to provide more career education options for students. “I just want you to be aware of how some of us are working hard to try to make our budgets stretch,” Black said.
• Approved revisions to seven policies recommended by the Minnesota School Boards Association updating the definition of “sexual orientation” to match state law, adding provision for cannabis testing, and several other minor revisions.
• Approved applications to the Minnesota State High School League Foundation to offset student activity fees and staff training costs associated with extracurricular league-sponsored athletics and fine arts programs.
• Heard about the plans for the Northern Minnesota Robotics Conference to be hosted at Northeast Range School on Oct. 27-28. Eighteen teams from 17 schools, including NER, will compete in the event. Competition will begin on Friday at 12:30 p.m. and is anticipated to last until around 7 p.m. Saturday’s session will begin at 7:30 a.m. and end around 12:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.
vHired Shayler Lislegard and Hanna Peitso as a part-time paraprofessionals at NER.
vHired Paige Olson as a Head Start part-time paraprofessional at Tower-Soudan.
• Hired Jani Jordan as a part-time ECFE teacher aide at T-S.
• Hired Jessa Quam as a part-time preschool teaching assistant at North Woods.
• Hired Gregory Rozier as a van driver at NER and Matthew Hannine (Witte) as a bus driver at NW.
• Hired the following coaches at NW – Liz Cheney, head girls basketball, with assistants Mye Buffetta, Becca Bundy, and Angela Schultz (half-stipend); Andrew Jugovich, head boys basketball, with assistant Dan Squiers.
• Accepted resignations from T-S teacher aide Paula Barnes, NW assistant basketball coaches Tom Burnett and Tate Olson, and NER custodian Barbara Rollie.
• Approved a salary step increase for T-S teaching assistant Jani Jordan.
• Approved increases in weekly hours for paraprofessionals, including 11 at NW, nine at NER, and two at T-S. Paraprofessionals had been reduced to four days a week in 2020, but in 2023-2024 the district has returned to hiring paraprofessionals at five days per week.
Current paraprofessionals affected by the 2020 cut were given the option of returning to five days per week. In 2024-25, all paras will work five days a week.